MRC Study: On Day Zarqawi Died, CNN And MSNBC Focused on The Negative

December 20th, 2006 5:01 PM

Now that times are difficult in Iraq, it’s easy for the media to claim they are simply reporting the bad news that is obvious to everyone. But how did networks such as CNN and MSNBC report more positive events? According to a new study by the MRC, overall, Fox News generated the most balanced coverage of news on the ground, while the other two cable networks consistently emphasized negative stories. FNC also displayed the highest enthusiasm on days such as June 8, when U.S. air strikes killed al-Qaeda in Iraq mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Over on MSNBC, while the anchors generally reported the event as good news, the network also chose that day to broadcast four stories on military deserters. On this seemingly happy occasion, CNN aired two reports on the already heavily hyped Haditha case.

To analyze the cable coverage of Iraq, MRC analysts examined both the 10am and 2pm EDT hours of live weekday news coverage, or 100 hours of news coverage for each network. They found a stark contrast between the coverage of MSNBC and CNN and that of FNC. This became particularly clear on days such as June 8. A few minutes after 2:30pm, just hours after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, MSNBC anchor Melissa Stark used the successful U.S. killing of the al-Qaeda leader as a seque into a more pessimistic topic:

Melissa Stark: "On this very successful day for the U.S. military with the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one U.S. soldier is refusing to deploy to Iraq. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada believes the Iraq war is morally wrong and a breach of American law."

A report on Watada followed. One might think that on such a happy day, one story on a U.S. deserter would be enough. Just a few minutes later, however, Stark introduced another similarly themed piece:

Stark: "Marine reservist Stephen Funk was the first U.S. serviceman to object to the Iraq war. He explained his discussion to NBC's Matt Lauer shortly after the war began."

MSNBC then played an extended clip from an appearance by Stephen Funk on the "Today" show. After touting this second soldier, the network followed up with two more reports, one on Gulf War deserters and another on Vietnam protests.

CNN didn’t fare much better on June 8. The cable channel brought on journalist and author Nir Rosen to present this gloomy assessment:

Nir Rosen: "Unfortunately, there's no good news in Iraq. There's no corner that's been turned, there's no milestone. The civil war began intensively in 2005, and it's continuing. This ethnic cleansing, Sunnis from Shia neighborhoods, Shias being expelled from Sunni neighborhoods, dead bodies on the street every day, tortured and killed because they're Sunni or because they're Shia. Events inside the Green Zone just don't really matter....The green zone is just a theater for people outside of Iraq. The militias are on the street in Iraq. They are the ones killing each other every day. And I just feel very depressed and hopeless. I think the civil war is going to intensify."

Again, keep in mind that this was broadcast just hours after a very successful military operation and in the wake of President Bush’s trip to Baghdad to meet with Prime Minister Maliki and his newly formed government. CNN also chose June 8 to file two reports on Haditha and the allegations that U.S. forces killed unarmed civilians. Correspondent John Roberts closed his report with a hyperbolic quote from Dartmouth College professor Aine Donovan:

Aine Donovan: "If Haditha proves true, it will be, unfortunately, and very sadly, the most memorable episode of this war."

FNC’s coverage that day generally proved to be the most enthusiastic. Anchor Jon Scott began the 10am hour by exclaiming the good news:

Jon Scott: "...The most-wanted man in Iraq has been killed in a U.S. air strike, in what turned out to be an unsafe house for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

After an interview with Senator John McCain, Scott turned to co-anchor Brigitte Quinn and remarked, "It’s nice to have some good news to report out of Iraq." Quinn agreed, "Yeah, it sure is, Jon."

These are but a few examples of the media skewing coverage in Iraq. The full report can be found here. The overall conclusion from MRC analysts: FNC reported the good and the bad, while CNN and MSNBC accentuated the negative. The situation in Iraq may be grim now but for those two networks, pessimism has reigned for quite a while.